FAIRBORN — The Fairborn Police Department is aiming to reduce the amount of crimes in the area by abating individuals from their residence who are found to be guilty.
Fairborn Police Chief Terry Barlow said the public nuisance abatement ordinance, which was introduced at the Sept. 8 council meeting but was tabled at the latest Sept. 21 meeting, was created in an effort to tackle the heroin epidemic the city currently faces.
“We got to the point where we need an additional method to assist with what we’re doing out here,” he said. “We can’t arrest our way out of this, so maybe displacing people will help … If there’s just one house in a neighborhood that’s a problem and we can remove that problem fairly quickly, then the whole neighborhood is thriving again.”
Under this ordinance, if an officer is dispatched to a scene and finds violations in regards to felonious drug use, a gambling house, prostitution or sex related offenses, drug abuse, nuisance party regulations, severe alcohol crimes or allowing a resort for thieves, burglars, robbers and/or individuals involved in felonious conduct, the supervisor on duty at the time of the crime will be dispatched to the area to conduct a total investigation of the situation, including a review the area, in addition to the history of the individual.
If the tenant is found to be guilty, they will be served paperwork stating that they have 15 days to leave the premises. As that deadline approaches, an officer will check the premises to see if the individual has left. If not, the individual will face a misdemeanor of the third degree, which is punishable by up to 60 days in jail as well as a fine of up to $750. The abated individual could not return to the numerical address for 365 days.
The landlord would be alerted of the situation within a few business days following the situation, and would be responsible for serving paperwork stating that the tenant is being evicted. They would only need to involve the court system if the tenant does not leave after 15 days has passed. However, if the landlord disregards the ordinance, they would be punished.
Barlow feels that this ordinance allows officers to take action after a crime has already taken place in relation to now, in which a police department official must witness something first-hand.
“Most of these things are already covered under the Ohio revised code now – there’s already laws on the books, we’re just trying to write it locally so we can control it within our city,” Barlow said. “It’s just another tool, method, multi-stage approach with arrests to try and get a hold on what’s going on. If we respond to a call someplace and there’s felony drug use, especially heroin, there will be zero tolerance. That person will be abated, there’s no doubt … These are things that are not everyday, they’re out-of-the-ordinary, but still very severe, things.”
Council members held a public hearing regarding the matter at the latest meeting, Sept. 21, but voted to table the ordinance. Local landlords raised questions in regards to the eviction process, in addition to how this ordinance fits into the American justice system.
“Our American criminal system is based on a presumption of innocence as a sacred principle, and the courts must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Fairborn landlord Theresa Gum said during the council meeting. “I feel that this ordinance is putting landlords in a position that is opposed to that guiding principle, that landlords and property owners must prove their innocence – that they are assumed to be guilty in this process.”
Gum went on to say that tenants are screened before they are ever given keys, and that leases state they will follow the laws of the land while living under the roof. She feels that the ordinance doesn’t provide protection for landlords and landowners under the possibility of falsehood.
“The landlords are concerned because of the wording of the ordinance, it has to be a coverall for everyone,” Barlow said. “The law has to be written for everybody, but when you enforce it you have discretion and the spirit of the law. We’re not trying to stick it to the landlords … The goal is to work with everyone, but to address the problem which is those individuals committing those crimes that fall under the nuisance abatement.”
Mayor Dan Kirkpatrick suggested waiting until the next council meeting to vote on the matter after hearing concerns from the citizens. Councilwoman Marilyn McCauley made a motion to waive the third reading rule, but it was not seconded. The third reading will take place at the Oct. 5 council meeting, and will not include a public hearing.
“I think it’s obvious to most of the citizens that we have problems in the city regarding this particular issue (drugs),” McCauley said during the meeting “We have a lot of good landlords, but we have a few that don’t quite meet the test. I think we can all be part of the problem or part of the solution, and it’s time we take the city back on some of those issues, [such as drugs] … it’s a big and difficult problem, but we as a city, it’s time we have to address it.”
This ordinance would create a board, and the police department recommended that it would consist of individuals from the police department, fire department, housing code committee, city solicitor and council, who would have the power to review and appeal abatement’s if the situation were to arise. Ownership of the property would add another wrinkle to the process; at that point, the board would be more involved.
“The worst thing we could do is use this law loosely and not be smart about it,” Barlow said. “That doesn’t help anyone.”
The concept of this ordinance has been on Barlow’s desk since 2005. The police department found guidance under the City of Dayton’s similar program. He feels that adopting this ordinance could eventually help everyone involved – including those who are impacted by felonious drugs.
“It’s a drug (heroin) that cuts across all lines and it’s very unforgiving,” he said. “Under this law, if they’ve overdosed a few times in one house and we abate them, it might be the first thing that helps [them].”
Whitney Vickers can be reached by calling her directly at 937-502-4532, or by following her on Twitter by seaching for @wnvickers. For more features online, like our page on Facebook.